Archive for the Valencia Category

Paella

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Valencia is the home of paella, which has essentially become a national dish of Spain.  As with a terrine or a casserole, the name “paella” comes from the pan in which the dish is cooked.

While there are touristy paellas all over Valencia, I was determined to find a really good one.  A woman in the hostel directed me to La Riua (Calle del Mar, 27)  on my first night in town.  She said it was a very traditional place for paella.  I went with a couple of girls who were also staying at the hostel, but the place was fully booked for the night.  It is always a good sign when a place is packed with Spanish speakers, so we made a reservation for Monday afternoon.

In the good places (not the ones with pictures), you can only order paella for two or more people.  It is not a singles’ dish, which can be frustrating to a solo traveler who wants to try them all.  My group of four ordered two variations.  We asked for the arroz negro, a paella that is blackened with squid ink.  We also ordered the fideua, a Valencian variation of paella which uses noodles instead of rice.

The arroz negro arrived first.  It was beautifully black.  The rice was almost irridescent, like little black pearls.  I could not imagine how it would taste.  Would it be very fishy, or even slimy?  I think I expected some strong, distinct, inky(?) flavor, but it was actually quite clean tasting, like fresh ocean water.  The short-grain rice had a little bite but was very creamy, like a good risotto.  The bits along the edge of the pan were deliciously crispy.  Rings of the most tender squid dotted the rice.

Arroz Negro in Valencia Fideua in Valencia

The fideua was made with inch-long pieces of soft vermicelli.  Otherwise, the dish was like a traditional paella.  The primary flavor and color are derived from saffron, Spanish gold. It was beautifully topped with rings of calamari and whole langoustines, which were new to me.  Langoustines look like little lobsters, including tiny claws.  I learned to remove the heads and then peel the shells away from the tail meat.  They were very sweet and tender; they had big flavor for something so small.

Before I leave, I hope to also try Paella Valenciana, a traditional rice paella with beans, rabbit, chicken, and snails.

Visiting Valencia

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After one night in Madrid, I took the train to Valencia.  I couldn’t check into my hostel until later, so I left my bags and headed straight for the Mercado, the main market.  The Mercado has row after row of food stalls, organized by type: seafood vendors, butchers, specialty jamon purveyors… nuts, spices, breads, pastries, fruits, vegetables, cheese, chocolate, and anything else you might want to eat.  Of course, everything was fresh and local.

Mercado Central Mercado Central in Valencia

On my way back to the hostel, I stopped for a horchata at Horchateria de Santa Catalina (Plaza de Santa Catalina 6).  Unlike the Mexican drink of the same name, Valencian horchata is made from tiger nuts, called chufa in Spanish.  The nuts, which get their English name from their striped pattern, are grown in the area directly surrounding Valencia.  The tiger nuts are ground and then mixed with sugar, water, and a bit of lemon juice. While it is sold all over the city, Horchateria de Santa Catalina competes with Horchateria El Siglo, located across the street, for the reputation of best horchata (like Pat’s and Geno’s compete for best cheesesteak in Philly).  Santa Catalina’s horchata was cold, mildly nutty, creamy and refreshing, like a thin milkshake.  It was delicious.  I wish I could have walked across the street and compared it to El Siglo’s concoction, but the competition was closed.  I guess Santa Catalina wins best this trip.

Horchata at Santa Catalina in Valencia

After checking into my hostel, I wandered around Valencia.  My favorite way to see a city is to walk it; I like to follow whatever impulse to go down this street or maybe that one.

After exploring for a couple of hours, I was hungry.  Aside from trying horchata, I had not eaten anything all day.  While all of the stores closed for siesta at 2pm, I assumed that there would still be some place to get something to eat.  I was wrong.  I walked around for a couple of more hours.  I must have seen ten weddings leave ten beautiful churches.  I saw some really interesting street art, which is all over the walls and garages of Valencia.  As I trekked, aside from a handful of (very not Spanish) kebab places, there was literally nowhere open to get food.  It was amazing to me.  Then, at 5pm, siesta ended and everything suddenly came back to life. 

Later, around 10:30pm, I went out for dinner with a couple of girls from the hostel.  It was a beautiful Saturday night and the restaurants were totally full.  We chose one place and waited at the bar for 45 minutes for a table.  In the meantime, we sipped agua de valencia: an easy-to-drink mixture of fresh orange juice, cava, gin and vodka.  It was midnight by the time we were able to get some tapas.  Walking back to the hostel at 2 in the morning, the streets were absolutely packed with people. 

Day One in Valencia was a startling introduction to Spanish time: you can eat anything at 2am, but not at 2pm.